By Andrew Campbell
Turkey is something that may have once been just a Christmas or Thanksgiving meal, but turkey bacon, deli meats and ground turkey are all part of a growing trend when consumers are looking for something a little different. And that means turkeys that are raised specifically for that purpose.
For turkey farmers Ann Marie and Cameron, their farm is about trying to keep birds as healthy and comfortable as possible using everything from coloured feeders to building a barn on top of a hill to make sure it gets the best possible breeze through it in the summertime. It shows how farming is more than just simply feeding an animal or driving a tractor but is about figuring out a lot of little details and working to improve them day after day. Come along with Ann Marie and Cameron as they show you all of those little details they worry about and just how well they know their turkeys.
Today we are talking with turkey farmers Ann Marie and Cameron. Thanks for having me. This is a pretty new barn. Why did you build a new barn?
Well, we’re expanding our operation and looking to make improvements in labor and environmental efficiencies. Also, this is our third year of an antibiotic free diet for our turkeys and we wanted to make sure that we have the best environment possible for the turkeys.
We are inside the barn now and the first thing I’ve noticed is the back half of the barn is empty and the front half is full of turkeys. Why are they not utilizing the space provided to them?
Turkeys are very curious creatures and we’ve been standing here for a couple of minutes looking at the turkeys and they’ve come up, just to check us out and see what we’re up to. They imprint pretty easily onto us as farmers. They’ll follow us around the barns. Eventually if we stand here long enough, they’ll lose interest in us and they will spread out again.
These turkeys are not very big. How old are they?
These turkeys are five and a half weeks old now. The turkeys are ready for market at approximately 16 weeks of age. They’re in this barn for approximately 12 weeks. We brood in another facility.
Brooding is raising from day olds?
Yes. They’re freshly hatched out of the hatchery. We get them as day olds and then we’ll have them in our brooding facility for four to five weeks.
What is different about the brooding facility compared to this barn here?
The brooding barn is what we call a power ventilated barn, it is totally enclosed and very warm. We start the day-old turkeys at 32 C (90 ℉). We slowly drop the temperature down as they get older. The barn we are in right now is a naturally ventilated barn with curtains along the sides.The weather outside averages about 21 C (70℉) right now. It’s a little warmer today obviously.
It’s actually probably about the warmest day we’ve had in the year so far. It’s not warm in here. How do you keep it cool? Why is it so nice?
This barn is located on a small hill. We get a natural prevailing wind on this farm, so it works really well to naturally ventilate the barn. We’re getting a nice gentle breeze through the curtains today, so the air is constantly being mixed and moving along.
Now you mentioned you feed an antibiotic free diet. What does that mean?
That means we don’t use any antibiotics in our feed rations. That allows us to be able to market that product as antibiotic free. This is our third year on this program. We’ve had pretty good luck with it. The goal of this new barn is just to enhance that even more.However, if the birds do get sick and we need to use veterinarian prescribed antibiotics, we have that option.
If an individual turkey gets sick you would give it antibiotics?
No, it would have to be the whole barn.
I guess you can’t really take the temperature of each turkey.
If we manage the environment the way we need to, then we minimize that risk. We use vaccines, the birds will be vaccinated, and so we’re able to take some preventative measures.
You’ve got a screen here covering the ventilation windows. Is this another preventative measure?
There are no wild birds allowed into the barn because of the avian influenza concerns that we have, especially in the springtime when you have the wild birds coming back from the South during their migration. We make sure that the birds are protected from any predators and wild birds.
Let’s take a look at a couple of things in the barn that has me curious. First of all, the green dishes that a couple of the birds have been dipping into. What’s in the green dish?
The green dish holds the water, those are our drinkers. We have four lines of water and all spaced to make sure that they have ample water to drink. They have water all the time on demand.
Now what about food, what do they eat?
The feed is also spaced throughout the barn in red bowls. Turkeys are attracted to red, they’re attracted to green too. We’re able to, because of the tube in the middle, flood those feeders when we first move birds into this barn. What that means is that we’ll get the feed level up higher so they can see the feed when they move into a new environment and it’s easier for them to find. We’ll be raising the feeders up as the birds grow. These birds have only been in the barn for a week. So, we want to make sure that they see and find everything.
What’s in the feed?
In a turkey ration there is corn, soybean, wheat… as well as vitamins and minerals to balance it out. We start off with a high protein diet and then eventually as you’re finishing the birds there’s more energy and lower protein.
One thing I noticed about these birds is they’re at maybe an adolescent phase where they’re kind of feathering out. What are some of the things that are going to change about a turkey over those seven weeks?
They’re going to grow. Our goal is that they reach 15 kg at 16 weeks of age. That’s the target. They will start to mature, their heads will become a reddish-blue. You’ll see them strutting around, or preening, the feathers go up and the tail feathers are fanned out. They like to move around the barn and keep active. They are fairly curious and when we check the barns, they follow us around.
You said right off the top, eventually they’d get bored and you can see they’re spreading back out and kind of filling up the barn and resting again.
At that 16 weeks of age, you’re going to ship them? How do you get them out of here?
We have a loader and a preloader. The preloader is a belted machine and the turkeys just ride on it. It puts them onto the loader, which is similar to an escalator. It’s usually just straight across and into crates. We try to make it stress free. We just have to walk the birds onto the preloader and then just herd them.
People only think of eating turkey a few times a year, but that’s something that turkey farmers are trying to change. Other than a whole bird, how is turkey processed?
These 15 Kg birds all go for further processing. You don’t want that big of a bird on your dining room table. So, deli meat, turkey burgers, turkey bacon, breast rolls… The advantage of turkey meat is it’s a little bit drier. So for a processor, that makes it easier to be able to do what they want with that product because it is already a little dryer. Depending on the ingredients that they have in their end product, it’s easier to further process that product.
This has been very interesting. Thanks for the tour.
Watch Fresh Air Farmer Andrew Campbell’s full video here